Tuesday 26 March 2019

'I didn't want to look back and have regrets. I'd have 100 per cent regretted not taking this one' - Farrell

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

The hot-seat is not yet his, yet Andy Farrell looks comfortable in it all the same.

He is Ireland's future head coach, a job which is at once a great honour and his greatest challenge - which is saying something when you consider what he has achieved in his professional life.

Since the IRFU announced their succession plan in November, the former rugby league great-turned-union guru has been kept under wraps, his public utterances limited to a few pre-match words with the in-house TV.

Yesterday, the union availed of a quiet week in the Six Nations to finally put the man they've anointed as Joe Schmidt's successor forward to take the media's questions.

Considering he's lived his entire adult life in the spotlight, it was a piece of cake.

There wasn't much detail about the process that saw him appointed, nor was he about to unveil the make-up of his coaching ticket.

But his motivation for taking on the job was laid out clearly. For a man with Farrell's reputation, offers are nothing new. This one was different.

"Do you know what, I have always been very cautious in the fact that I have got a good job and you've got to be sure that you are ready for these things," he said.

"I was coming to a stage where jobs were being offered in the head coach role and I had said no to quite a few.

"I didn't want to get to a stage where I was going to look back in the future and have regrets. I would have 100 per cent regretted not taking this one.

"I'm not desperate to be the main man but with this group and the timing of it all and the flow of the continuity etc, it is great timing for me."

Born and raised in Wigan, Farrell represented England in league and union; his son, Owen, is England's captain and he assisted Stuart Lancaster with England team until they were dismissed in 2015.

In a week when dual-identity has been a hot topic in Irish sport, Farrell - whose brother represented Ireland in league - touched on his own heritage as he assessed how Dublin has become his family home since he was offered a chance to get back coaching by Schmidt in 2016.

"We love it here for so many reasons," he said. "I could talk all day about the (working) environment. But just being over here as a family is special as well. The people are so welcoming and warm.

"It does lead me to the thought process of wondering, 'Why did my ancestors leave?!'"

He is not a sentimental man and he retains a strict professional bubble around his relationship with Owen.

The experience of exiting a home World Cup at the pool stages will be a stain on his and Lancaster's record forever, albeit one that has faded with time and the success they've enjoyed across the Irish Sea.

Farrell was asked about the lessons he learned in the aftermath.

"There's all sorts of stuff that you review and Stuart's spoken about that stuff," he said. "As far as the process of the selection and the feeling of the group and the difference in having the players for the full off-season etc and dealing with the pressures of dealing with the group states.

"But really, what are my overriding thoughts of that, it's probably where the squad was at. The squad was very young and I think Stuart mentioned last week their playing age, as far as internationals, is reaping the rewards (now) and I wouldn't disagree with that."

They could yet be reunited with Ireland, but Farrell simply said that he is planning for 2020 behind the scenes without giving up any names. It will be a matter of months before the picture is clearer on that front.

For now, the focus is on the current job of managing Ireland's defence coach.

Before his press conference, Farrell helped oversee an open training session at the Aviva Stadium - an intense work-out with the U-20s in front of a young, enthusiastic audience that saw the 19 senior men retained put through their paces.

The loss to England, he admits, was a shock to the system but he was impressed with how the team bounced back.

"It was a big week, the Scottish week," he said. "There was disappointment in many different areas. It was a big game, we wanted to get back on the horse and get a 'W' on the board. But a good performance individually and collectively came after.

"On top of that there are not many teams who come to Murrayfield these days and get a win.

"We have been picking the performance apart in the last couple of days but if you get back to before kick-off, you are thinking: 'What is going to be a good outcome?'

"A win would be a good outcome.

"In my opinion, in terms of how the game went, I thought everyone has been talking about Scotland making too many errors in the second half etc, I thought we got them to a point, probably on 50/55 minutes where they had to start chasing the game a little, where we subconsciously grabbed hold of the game, forced them to play a little differently.

"When you put that into context, I thought it was a super win.

"In the England game, I take my hat off to them. They were outstanding. There were a couple of areas within our game that hurt us. There were probably two or three or four errors that cost us dearly. That's what top-line rugby is all about.

"We're constantly looking to improve, constantly looking to get an edge with our defence and our whole game. I think we're in a good place. We are. Because the players care about getting better, they care massively.

"We've got three more games in this competition to keep on improving and we'll see where we go after that."

Irish Independent

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